City defends use of police car, policy

COLUMBIA CITY — City officials are responding to several letters in The Post & Mail accusing the city police, and in particular one mayoral candidate, of waste of government funds.Letters submitted to the newspaper referenced a perceived misuse of a city police vehicle by mayoral candidate Gary Parrett.The letter writers M.K. Meeks and local attorney Terry Smith accuse Parrett of driving a police car to his local restaurant while on sick leave from the police department.“He was actually on light duty,” said Mayor Jim Fleck on Friday while addressing the city’s Board of Works and Safety.“He did not abuse when he was off duty. I think that’s out of bounds. You shouldn’t tell just what you want to tell without the facts.”Aside from Parrett’s alleged abuse of city property, the town’s take-home policy for police vehicles has also been criticized.Proponents of the program say it pays for itself many times over even if it does cost the city more at the gas pump.Board of works member Roger Seymoure said Friday he heard of suspects arrested in Warsaw for a crime who said they drove through Columbia City and targeted the Kosciusko County seat because “they observed more police cars in Columbia City.”The mayor agreed.“It (the take-home program) has not only reduced incidents of crime,” said Fleck, “but it’s costing the city less in terms of vehicle maintenance.”Criticisms in newspaper letters also targeted what letter writers referred to as city police driving city vehicles out of town.This was described by Fleck as Columbia City officers engaging in training in cities such as Fort Wayne.Columbia City Police Chief Mike Petersen also defended the program, which he said has been in place for several years.“I think it’s worth it and if they (the city government) decide not to do it, you’ll lose some services.”Petersen said some of the positive effects of the program have been higher trade-in values for police vehicles.He said prior to the program, a police car with 120,000 miles on it could be expected to bring about $300 in trade-in.That number has jumped, Petersen said, to about $2,500.The reason the police chief gave for this is the police officers’ “sense of ownership.”He also said with police vehicles at the officers’ homes, the deployment of police assets to an emergency increases more than two-fold.“You get the availability of 18 units instead of just seven,” he said.“So, we think it’s (Columbia City’s take-home program) been real successful,” Petersen said.Petersen also addressed the issue with Gary Parrett.“He’s taking the blame, but if anyone was to blame, it was my fault,” said Petersen.“He was on light duty at the time, but he ran some investigations for us.”